Tuesday, July 25, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 79: Daniel Zayas

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.

Name:Daniel Zayas
Location:Phoenix, AZ
Day Job:Consulting Creators and Marketing Board Games
Designing:Two to five years.
Facebook:The Daniel Zayas Company
Find my games at:Kickstarter ;)
Today's Interview is with:

Daniel Zayas
Interviewed on: 5/15/2017 & 7/22/2017

This week we have a special People Behind the Meeples interview with Daniel Zayas, a name many of you may be familiar with. While Daniel has worked on designing a few games, he is best known for his work in the Kickstarter community as a reviewer, blogger, and campaign consultant. Today's interview is about Daniel in his capacity as a Kickstarter Expert, according to Kickstarter's own site.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start helping tabletop game crowdfunding campaigns?
I started helping tabletop campaigns as a reaction to almost no one in the industry working directly with creators to implement best practices. Reading blogs to learn on your own is great, but why not just hire someone who can help you avoid the pitfalls in the first place? Especially if that person only collects from the Kickstarter funds itself versus how a traditional contractor is hourly. It is an all-positive scenario!

What campaigns are you currently working on?
Bridges to Nowhere, Manaforge, Skyways, AEGIS, and Loot & Recruit are some recent campaigns!

Have you worked on any games that have been published?
I have incubated many games which have been published over the years. Some examples are more hands on than others.

What is your day job?
Consulting Creators and Marketing Board Games

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
I enjoy public spaces, so conventions and game stores are a good fit for me when able.

Who do you normally game with?
I normally game with a couple friends I know from a game night which used to be held in Phoenix. I am looking to revive that program since returning to town.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
I really gravitate to clever card games. But I don't discriminate. I am down to play anything once. You will have a hard sell with me if you bring out a straight co-op though.

And what snacks would you eat?
I usually have a Powerade on hand.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Not usually. I don't really put anything on, but I do enjoy casual beachy tunes when I do have music on.

What's your favorite FLGS?
I've only been to one called Games Depot since returning to Phoenix.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
I don't really understand this question. My current favorite game is probably Terraforming Mars followed closely by Rococo, but I have been getting a few Valeria universe games on the table more often it seems. There is an ongoing joke at EGG that I keep unsuccessfully trying to promote Freya's Folly, which unfortunately hasn't done well in sales, but is a brilliant game. I don't really have a least-favorite game, but it is probably a co-op. Maybe Hanabi?

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I like saboteur or a hidden role/missions types of games. I dislike straight co-ops.

What's your favorite game that you just can't ever seem to get to the table?
Probably Siege of Verdan. I got the collectors box and that is intimidating on its own. But also it is a brutal game of killing and destruction, so I can imagine people being overly sensitive to losing. I think Siege is an awesome hand management game disguised as an area control game and I highly recommend it.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, Other Games?

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
When I got started gaming, that answer was probably Stefan Feld. As I play more games, that is probably shifting to a tie between Eric Lang and Scott Almes. Fairly ironic that they seem to produce polar opposite style games.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
In the morning with a cup of coffee in my hand.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Rick and Morty

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
To listen to people who you think probably have your best interest in mind.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Stop procrastinating. Make something and don't be that guy who says I thought of that first. Go make it and stop complaining.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker's Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
All of them. I admin a good chunk.

Your role in the tabletop gaming industry…
Over the last few years you've run a series of web sites all about rating and promoting Kickstarter campaigns and board games in particular. I've been following along since, I think, the beginning. First you had the Meeple Mechanic, then Smarter Backer, and now The Daniel Zayas Company. Through it all you've changed and evolved your sites a lot, but some stuff has stayed the same.

What can you tell us about the history of your involvement in supporting Kickstarter backers and mentoring Kickstarter creators?
I have been helping Kickstarter creators and backers arguably since launching my first blog about 3 years ago. In that time, I have released nearly every week a top 10 list of new tabletop game Kickstarter campaigns. The actual list evolved from following a rubric of common best practices to now related to total money raised. I also have directly mentored countless creators on an informal basis in that time. This was in addition to my former position with Eagle-Gryphon Games and now through my new position through LongPack Games. Only recently was my consulting for creators formalized through the Kickstarter Experts program.

Through all your sites' iterations, one thing you keep coming back to is the "Badger". Can you tell us a little about your original goals of the Kickstarter Badger, or Board Game Badger, and how that evolved over time?
My original goal was to objectify a very subjective topic at the time, what was the ideal Kickstarter campaign. As the rubric was refined, most anybody in the industry looking to do well on Kickstarter started playing to this rubric, which almost became a practical checklist of everything creators could learn from Jamey Stegmaier's blog. That goal shifted a number of times as I experimented with the format, even at one point soliciting weekly user ratings to earn a project more points based on its likes and comments. Now the list is simply to celebrate projects which have the most funding, separated into five projects which are funded and five not yet funded. This is likely the format I am to stick with for the foreseeable future because the listing stays true to my original goal of having nothing to do with my opinion of the actual game or campaign.

And why a badger?
The badger is where my opinion actually does comes in. I am not known for holding punches if I see something that can be improved. Users on my site need to register for a free account to see my opinions on the campaigns, but they are there! I eventually personified the badger moniker and made the mascot standing over every Board Game Badger and it is now my official logo for The Daniel Zayas Company.

One of the things I really liked on your old Meeple Mechanic site were the interviews with designers. In fact, that's what inspired me to start up my People Behind the Meeples series. You also did game reviews and more. I know you are keeping the Board Game Badger alive on your site, but do you plan to bring back any of the other features that you had on your sites in the past?
I did a lot of work early on to maintain the Foxhole Fiver project, something I am sure you can relate to. I ended up losing my data in an unfortunate hosting switch, and lost all of my content, including the Fivers. I got burned on the idea of content which would be valuable except right in the moment of publishing, so I have avoided starting up my own interview series again. One thing I have started is solicitation from experts in various fields for collaborative content, whether that content is hosted on my website or theirs.

Last year you became the Marketing Directory for Eagle-Gryphon Games (congrats!). What has working for an established game publisher that uses Kickstarter taught you about the behind-the-scenes of running a Kickstarter campaign and game publishing in general?
I probably learned a fair amount of humility if I am being honest with myself. The stakes are low for scorched earth arguments when you are simply the owner of a blog. When you are representing a large publisher who has entrusted you with their voice, you learn quickly that honey works better than vinegar. Practically, I also learned that you can plan everything as well as you are able, but things still go wrong and that is just part of it. It has helped me not leap to verbal fisticuffs when a campaign is delayed or a game production has minor flaws. It is all part of crowdfunding and I am just happy to be part of it lately, warts and all.

About Being a Kickstarter Expert
This is a good segue to the next topic I'd like to cover. You recently became what Kickstarter calls a "Kickstarter Expert" and have a feature on their Kickstarter Experts page.

What is a Kickstarter Expert and what exactly is it that you do for creators?
Kickstarter Experts is a new initiative by Kickstarter to separate the wheat from the chaff and truly endorse the companies and individuals helping new creators become successful on the platform. As a listee, I am a paid consultant who helps creators navigate campaign layout, production, manufacturing, freight shipping and fulfillment for their campaign. I specialize in consulting for future and current tabletop game publishers.

Do you only work with creators in the tabletop games category, or do you work with other categories as well?
I have one client currently who is not in the tabletop games category, a friend of a friend who has written a novel, actually. But I love my lane and am passionate about tabletop games. I always turn down project pitches where I don't feel I can help adequately and always refer them to the Experts list to find more people who can better assist the creator's efforts.

What are the top 5 things you'd recommend that a creator should or shouldn't do for their campaign?

  1. A game creator should not become a publisher unless he or she has money and time to invest in the art and marketing of a campaign. Emphasis on the art. That means outsourcing his or her own shortcomings and paying for that.
  2. A creator should not hire me unless he or she is ready to possibly transform a game itself to perform better on Kickstarter. This is what a publisher would likely do, so be ready to kill your darlings to make a viable product.
  3. Every Kickstarter today lasting longer than 10 days need substantive stretch goals. If you have a problem with that, pitch the game to a publisher. They will approve it and publish it traditionally or change it to build in stretch goals for a Kickstarter themselves.
  4. Listen to all advice from all sources, but pay attention to where the advice is coming from, too. Some people with strong opinions don't have any foundational experience to speak of as a publisher or a Kickstarter creator.
  5. Lastly, create content. George Jaros is better off to launch a tabletop campaign than other would-be publishers because people know he is invested in the board game industry based on the time investment of constantly and consistently blogging. Same goes for me, same goes for Jamey Stegmaier, same goes for any other would-be publisher.

There are a few controversial topics when it comes to running Kickstarter campaigns. I'm not sure there are right or wrong answers to any of these, but what are your opinions of the following topics?

  • Early Birds - Wrong. Early birds reward people who back you often times on the first day of the campaign. Those same people are most likely to have paid the full amount. So, even if you fund and used early birds to get there, you arguably threw away thousands of dollars, depending on the discount.
  • Free Shipping or Lower Pledge + Shipping - Right. Amazon spoiled American backers. You as a publisher live in that world, regardless of what you want the world to be. Offer shipping included for US backers, unless your campaign will include weighty stretch goals, such as in miniatures games.
  • No Promos / Kickstarter Promos available later / Kickstarter Exclusives - Right. I love Kickstarter exclusives. Why not? Because retailers will be angry? Most games on Kickstarter will never be on their shelves, so let them be angry. I say go for it. I will say that KS exclusives should also be used as convention promotions as well.
  • Using Kickstarter just for Pre-orders - Right. Kickstarter is for everyone. Kickstarter brings products to life which otherwise would not exist, and maybe some which would exist anyway, but the key is we get to be a direct part of the process this way. Kickstarter has democratized production, even if the creator is coming from the means to not require Kickstarter to manufacture a game. To those who whine about the oxygen getting sucked up in the room, I say to them, why not just be better and actually compete for backers instead of complaining about the way the world is? I want more of the products in my hobby and passion to exist, regardless of the source. I want my industry to grow.
  • Stretch Goals - to reveal them or not? - Right. I am in the camp of, "if you don't know that you will fund early, you should not be launching a campaign." In that regard, reveal the first 2-4 stretch goals at launch.
  • Premium pledge tiers, e.g. get your image in the game, etc. - Sometimes. I think personally those are gimmicky, but I have seen it work firsthand. I will not outright say not to try them. I will say instead to know your audience and make your decisions accordingly.
  • Promo only pledge tiers, e.g. support us and get just a t-shirt, etc. - Wrong. People are there to back a game. Do not distract your backers with a million ancillary purchase options. In general you should be aiming for less pledge levels than more. Trim the fat.
  • Anything else that stirs up discussions you'd like to leave your opinion on? - Here's a big personal wrong which has come up in the past and has lead to vitriol against me to no end. Embargos for Kickstarter releases are backward and old fashioned. The campaigns which employ them are generally attached to strong IPs and would have funded anyway. These campaigns specifically always benefit more from the hype of the earliest announcement possible. If you are ever offered this information which would be valuable to your audience on an embargoed press release, I say publish it immediately. Save them from themselves with such a terrible marketing decision.

Aside from tabletop games, what is your favorite Kickstarter category to peruse?
I went to a journalism school, even though I focused in public relations and crowdfunding. There is a lot of great work being done in the journalism category on Kickstarter and I highly recommend you help fund the projects which impact your life.

What was the very first Kickstarter project that you backed? The most recent?
The first project. I honestly don't remember off hand and I also swapped to a new Kickstarter account in anticipation of the Experts program. The most recent Kickstarter I backed was the Ascended Kings game. Go check it out!

Obviously we hope that all campaigns we back and support are successful, but sometimes they aren't. What is the campaign you were most hoping would be successful that just didn't pull it off?
I do not have remorse for failed campaigns because they can always regroup and relaunch. I am generally more annoyed by relaunches which look identical or too similar to the prior campaign, having not learned the lesson they needed to learn which caused them to fail in the first place. One specific campaign I am looking forward to is ELO Darkness, which made my Badger list but ended up cancelling. They are slotted for a September 5 relaunch, so I will have my eye out to see how they do.

Were there any campaigns you were surprised didn't make it? Any you were surprised were successful? And why?
I am less and less surprised by successful and unsuccessful campaigns overall. You realistically only need 200-400 people to pledge to fund most board games. That is an infinitesimally small amount of people you need to believe in your product and get you over the finish line. It has seriously gotten to the point where if you don't fund on day one or two, you shouldn't have launched in the first place. I would advise future creators to spend a lot more time in premarketing to capture the most potential backers and then continue to keep them engaged through the whole process. If you are not a type A extrovert, this may be a position you outsource.

There are a lot of Kickstarter Experts on that list, including a few others who say they work with games. What reason should a creator choose you over one of the other experts?
I don't think creators should hire me without also looking into the services of other Experts. We all have different models that work for our needs and different skillsets we bring to the table for campaigns. I will say that even though other Experts also work in games among a number of other categories, I only work in tabletop games within the Games category. I am good at incubating tabletop game projects, and I have the connections necessary to facilitate a smoother and faster build time, whereas I would be totally lost even with a video game project. I know that most self-publishers of tabletop games are not trust fund babies, so when I sign projects, it is under the agreement that I don't make money until we all make money. That is in the form of deferred payment related to the performance of the Kickstarter itself. That seems to be working, for now.

Do you have any advice for those of us that want to back a ton of Kickstarters, but just can't afford them all? Please? =)
That's easy. Use my curated lists of the best campaigns to back each week to spend your money in the best way possible. When you create a free account, you will receive an email update for new content, so you will never miss out on a worthwhile opportunity.

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I'm sure are on everyone's minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Trek Enterprise, La Croix or some Mineral Water, and I am too young to have an opinion on either of those. I will say Chromecast over Cable?

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I love to ride my bike around town, trying new items on various downtown menus. I also have two dogs who I spoil with bananas.

What is something you learned in the last week?
I learned how to create an ebook infographic using canva and the importance of offering an ebook on my site to generate subscriptions and sales leads.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Beach Vibes on Spotify. Also my friend is in a band called El West on Spotify which I listen to often. I like to read edutainment sort of books, like Creative, Inc. or anything by GaryVee. I watch a lot of movies. Most recently I enjoyed Handsome on Netflix. Before that, I rewatched Big Trouble in Little China.

What was the last book you read?
Last book was Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. That is a head scratcher for any sci-fi fans.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I actually had my first run in with college under a choral music program, and I picked up very basic piano. I recently bought a piano and am refurbishing it to eventually play again.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I was an airborne cryptologic linguist in the US Air Force. I still know a lot of Korean I learned in my time there.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
In the military, I was stationed for training in Monterey. A couple friends and I hatched a crazy idea to get some In-n-Out a couple towns over. None of my friends had vehicles at the time as we were mostly just out of basic training. So we were left to navigating on our own via the public transit system, which was lacking in that area to say the least. We ended up walking a few miles at the end of it to reach In-n-Out. That's not really the crazy I think you had in mind, but I don't think I would make the same trip again.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
When I was younger, I went to a water park in southern California called Raging Waters. At Raging Waters, they have this ride called the Black Hole. I wanted to ride on my own instead of with a family member. But I didn't really weigh enough, so when I started down the slide on an inner tube, I didn't actually have enough momentum and stalled. The workers there couldn't see or hear me, so they sent the next party down, my mom's boyfriend at the time and my brother. They ran into me so hard that I did a flip in the air, they grabbed me so I didn't fly off the ride, and I rode the Black Hole on top of them the whole way down.

Who is your idol?
I am a fan of Scott Bakula. Seen a majority of his stuff from Quantum Leap and Star Trek Enterprise.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
I would jump to a future where they have solved death and bring that technology back as early as it would be feasible to use.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Extrovert. On the Briggs-Meyers System, I am a ENTP, which 16 Personalities defines as the Debater.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
I would be Dr. Who

Have any pets?
2 Dogs! Einstein and Darwin

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
I hope everything survives and nothing is forgotten.

If you'd like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here's your chance (I can't guarantee they'll read this though):
I'd like to give a shout out to Scott Bakula and Dr. Who for being such great answers in this interview.

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Be sure to read the Board Game Badger on my site every Sunday to see the best new tabletop game campaigns I think you should back or follow.

Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

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